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Published: 1/4/2014

Military base in Kabul is hit by explosion

BY MATTHEW ROSENBERG
NEW YORK TIMES

KABUL, Afghanistan — An explosion hit one of the entrances to a predominantly U.S. military base in the heart of Kabul today, hours after a separate suicide bombing in eastern Afghanistan killed a U.S. service member — the first combat casualty of the year.

Neither the extent of the explosion at the base, Camp Eggers, nor what caused it was immediately clear, though the U.S.-led coalition said it inflicted no casualties. The Afghan police also said they had no reports of deaths or injuries from the blast at Camp Eggers or from a separate explosion that appeared to have gone off around the same time a few miles away.

The second blast was caused by a mine that had been dropped into a drainage ditch, the police said.

The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for setting off the explosion at Camp Eggers, which occurred around 7:30 p.m. But the insurgents did not say what kind of bomb was used, and officials with the U.S.-led military coalition said they were still trying to determine what had happened. They would confirm only that there had been an explosion “in the vicinity” of Camp Eggers.

But within 20 minutes of the blast, which could be heard throughout much of central Kabul, alarms at the base began going off. The alarms were followed by an announcement on the camp’s loudspeaker that said there had been an explosion at one the gates.

The announcement then instructed the thousands of service members based there to load their weapons and stay where they were. All the troops charged with protecting the base were told to take up their posts, as were those assigned to fight fires.

Camp Eggers is a short walk from the presidential palace, the headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition and the U.S. Embassy, along with a handful of other diplomatic missions. The area is heavily fortified with concrete barriers and cut off from the rest of the city by checkpoints operated by the Afghan police and private security guards.

Attacks within the security zone are rare but have taken place before, and today’s explosion appeared to be a sharp reminder that insurgents can strike even the most heavily guarded areas in Afghanistan.

Still, most of the attacks in the past year on secured areas in Kabul have inflicted only limited casualties on Afghans and coalition troops. Afghan security forces also appear to be increasingly adept at taking on small groups of attackers and not letting the assaults go on for 24 hours or more, which had been the case in a number of instances before 2013.

But for propaganda purposes, striking the U.S. military remains a goal for the Taliban, especially when the target is in Kabul.

The insurgents, who routinely inflate the number of deaths caused by their attacks, said today’s explosion had inflicted coalition losses, Reuters reported, citing an email from the militants.

Earlier in the day, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a joint U.S. and Afghan military base in eastern Afghanistan.

Afghan officials said at least five suicide bombers assaulted the base in Nangarhar province shortly after dawn, and a U.S. service member was killed in the first blast. The remaining attackers were killed in the ensuing firefight, said Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the provincial government.

The coalition confirmed that one of its soldier’s had been killed in eastern Afghanistan but did not provide the service member’s nationality or any details.



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